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Colour Theories & Some Applications. “The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love color the most.” — John Ruskin. Scientific & Philosophical Interests & Origins of Modern Colour Theory. Isaac Newton Opticks 1704 (old spelling of Optics)

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colour theories some applications
Colour Theories & Some Applications

“The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love color the most.”

— John Ruskin

scientific philosophical interests origins of modern colour theory
Scientific & Philosophical Interests & Origins of Modern Colour Theory
  • Isaac Newton Opticks 1704 (old spelling of Optics)
    • Used musical scale to divide spectrum and attach names to areas
    • Physics (but theological implications)
interpretations of colour theory by artists
Interpretations of Colour Theory by artists
  • Goethe’s Theory of Colours (1810)
  • Built on wavelength theory of light (after Newton)
  • Methods interesting
  • Conclusion refuted
  • Influential on artists
  • Ex. Turner
  • Colour theory weblink

Goethe’s Colour Wheel

research on colour theory nomenclature names by scientists for aesthetic products
Research on Colour Theory & Nomenclature (names) by scientists for aesthetic ‘products’
  • Michel Eugène Chevreul--Chemist working in Gobelins carpet factory
  • Noticed optical mixing of two adjacent colours
  • De la loi du contrast simultané des couleurs 1839
  • Influential on artists
complementary colours in art design
Complementary Colours in art & design
  • 19th c. theories of “Simultaneous Contrast” and optical mixing Ex. Eugène Delacroix Women of Algiers
complementary colours in art design1
Complementary Colours in art & design
  • optical mixing
    • Ex. Pointillism (neo-expressionism)--Seurat

optical effects of adjacent tonal valuesor colourslink to stroboscopic effects (complementary colors seen as grey)

colour theory practical applications in design
Colour Theory & Practical Applications in Design
  • Video Clip from The Devil Wears Prada

Part of Pantone color swatch set with samples of color trends for designers (fall 2008)

types of colour theories
Types of Colour Theories
  • Subtractive Theory
    • The subtractive, or pigment theory deals with how white light is absorbed and reflected off of coloured surfaces.
  • Additive Theory
    • The Additive, or light theory deals with radiated and filtered light.
subtractive theory
Subtractive Theory
  • Black absorbs most light
  • White reflects most light
  • Coloured Pigments absorb light and reflect only the frequency of the pigment colour.
  • All colours other than the pigment colours are absorbed so this is called subtractive colour theory.
  • The primary colours in Subtractive Theory are:
    • Cyan ( C )
    • Magenta ( M )
    • Yellow ( Y )
    • Black ( K )
  • Subtractive or Pigment Theory is used in printing and painting.
additive theory
Additive Theory
  • Black radiates no light
  • White (sun) radiates all light
  • Video is the process of capturing and radiating light, therefore it uses Additive (Light) Theory not Subtractive (Pigment) Theory.
  • The primary colours in Additive Theory are:
    • Red ( R )
    • Green ( G )
    • Blue ( B )
  • The primary colours add together to make white
  • Light Theory is also called Additive Theory.
  • Light Theory is used in Television, theater lighting, computer monitors, and video production.
the colour wheel
The Colour Wheel

If the ends of the spectrum are bent around a colour wheel is formed:

the colour wheel1
The Colour Wheel
  • Colours on the wheel can be described using three parameters:
  • Hue: degrees from 0˚ to 360˚
  • Saturation: brightness or dullness
  • Value: lightness or darkness

(As suggested by Henry Albert Munsell in A Colour Notation, 1905)

the colour wheel hue
The Colour Wheel: Hue
  • Hue or Spectral Colour is represented as an angle.
  • Primary Colours:
    • 0˚ = Red
    • 120˚ = Green
    • 240˚ = Blue
  • Secondary Colours:
    • 60˚ = Yellow
    • 180˚ = Cyan
    • 300˚ = Magenta
the colour wheel saturation
The Colour Wheel: Saturation
  • Saturation or Chroma is the intensity of a colour.
  • A highly saturated colour is bright and appears closer to the edge of the wheel.
  • A more unsaturated colour is dull.
  • A colour with no saturation is achromatic or in the grey scale.
the colour wheel value
The Colour Wheel: Value

"the quality by which we distinguish a light colour from a dark one."

  • Albert Henry Munsell

A Colour Notation 1905

Value represents the luminescent contrast value between black and white

the colour wheel 3d
The Colour Wheel 3d

Three parameters to describe a colour: Hue Chroma Value


MANY more scientific models based on different colour theory: (Example: Colour Tree by American artist Henry Albert Munsell fromA Colour Notation, 1905.)

more illustrations of the munsell system
More Illustrations of the Munsell System


scientific industry specific color systems
Scientific & Industry-specific Color systems
  • CIE (Commission internationale d’éclairage),
  • and MANY others
using color
Using Color--
  • blue in large regions, not thin lines
  • red and green in the center of thefield of view (edges of retina not sensitive to these)
  • black, white, yellow in periphery
  • Color Brewer
  • Pantone
colour schemes systematic ways of selecting colours
Colour SchemesSystematic ways of selecting colours
  • Monochromatic
  • Complimentary
  • Analogous
  • Warm
  • Cool
  • Achromatic
  • Chromatic Grays
colour schemes monochromatic
Colour Schemes: Monochromatic
  • Monochromatic:

One Hue many values of Tint and Shade

Artist: Marc Chagall

Title: Les Amants Sur Le Toit

colour schemes complementary note spelling not complimentary
Colour Schemes: Complementary (note spelling--NOT complimentary)
  • Complimentary: Colours that are opposite on the wheel. High Contrast

Artist: Paul Cezanne

Title: La Montage Saint Victoire

Year: 1886-88

colour schemes analogous
Colour Schemes: Analogous
  • Analogous: A selection of colours that are adjacent. Minimal contrast

Artist: Vincent van Gogh

Title: The Iris

Year: 1889

colour schemes warm
Colour Schemes: Warm

Warm: First half of the wheel give warmer colours. The colours of fire.

Artist: Jan Vermeer

Title: Girl Asleep at a Table

Year: 1657

colour schemes cool
Colour Schemes: Cool

Cool: Second half of the wheel gives cooler colours

Artist: Pablo Picasso

Title: Femme Allongée Lisant

Year: 1939

colour schemes achromatic chromatic grays
Colour Schemes:Achromatic, Chromatic Grays

Achromatic: Black and white with all the grays in-between.

Chromatic Grays: Also called neutral relief. Dull colours, low contrast.

colour pickers choice of media
Colour Pickers & Choice of Media
  • RGB
  • CMYK
  • Others
    • Lab

Munsell’s notation wheel

colour pickers hsb hls hsv
Colour Pickers: HSB, HLS, HSV
  • HSV
      • Hue
      • Saturation
      • Value
  • HSB (Same as HSV)
      • Hue
      • Saturation
      • Brightness
  • HLS
      • Hue
      • Lightness
      • Saturation
colour pickers rgb cmyk
Colour Pickers: RGB, CMYK
  • RGB
      • Red
      • Green
      • Blue
    • Used in Video and Computer graphics
    • 3 Values in % or between
      • 0-255
  • CMYK
      • Cyan
      • Magenta
      • Yellow
      • K = Black
    • Used for printing
photoshop cs3 picker
Photoshop CS3 Picker
  • Combines HSB,RGB, CMYK,Lab (Luminance, Red/Green, Yellow/Blue)
  • Adobe

colour pickers pantone
Colour Pickers: PANTONE
  • Standard for printing/fastion industry
  • Not Usually Pre-attentive
region search
Region Search

Hue boundary identified


Form variations do NOT

interfere with hue

boundary identification

Form boundary NOT

identified pre-attentively

Hue variations interfere

with form boundary


area estimation
Area Estimation
  • Blue rectangles? Sloped rectangles?